As published in the Northwest Herald on October 7, 2016

When I was interviewing at United Way of Greater McHenry County back in the spring, I called both of my parents to drill them on what they knew about United Way. Although I had been doing some of my own research, I figured they would be my “phone a friend” and would give me some insight as I pondered this career move.

What struck me as interesting was that both my mom and my dad said the one thing that they clearly remember and associate with United Way was that “back in the day” there was a huge thermometer hanging in town, and they would watch for the progress.

Fast forward to last week, when I was rummaging around the supply closet in our office. I was standing on a box, stretching my arm to grab something on the top shelf, and out of nowhere, a huge canister rolled down and smacked me. Wondering what could be rolled up in this oversized tube, I reached in and unfurled an 8-foot-tall poster of a blank United Way thermometer!

With our annual kickoff breakfast in just a few days, I just knew we had to incorporate this thermometer! Not only were we gearing up for our yearly campaign kickoff, but United Way also is celebrating 50 years in McHenry County. What could be more perfect than bringing back this classic icon to launch our year?

The United Fund or Community Chest, as we were previously known, began back in 1966, according to a big, yellow binder of historical minutes found in our office. The first meeting was held with some community members on Aug. 18, 1966, at Central Grade School in Crystal Lake. David J. Blahnik, president of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce, presided.

It was decided that during the week of Oct. 24 that year, the group would host a United Fund Drive in “an effort to eliminate many of the individual tag days and fund drives of the past because so many deserving organizations have fallen short of their goals.” They believed that a United Fund Drive would be more successful than individual drives, as well as demand less time and effort on the part of volunteers.

The first organizations to sign up and receive donations were the McHenry County chapter of the American Red Cross, Blackhawk Area Council Boy Scouts of America, Chicago Missionary Society, Crystal Lake Public Welfare, Sybaquay Girl Scout Council Inc., Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society, The Salvation Army and Woodstock Children’s Home.
In a document dated Dec. 13, 1966, it was noted that the United Fund Drive raised $21,680.41 that first campaign, and the average size of contribution of a pledge was $13.11!

Although I know that to take minutes at meetings can sometimes be a tedious, unwanted task, to be able to flip through these overstuffed books full of 50 years’ worth of historical records and documents is fascinating. I appreciate all the work that went into detailing the start and history of an important and worthy organization.

The staff, board members and volunteers are thrilled to recognize and celebrate the 50th anniversary of United Way’s commitment to McHenry County. We realize the importance of giving back, and we realize the needs are greater than ever. We also have the same desires as our predecessors did: to give to deserving organizations and lessen the demands on those associated with them.

At our annual breakfast, we hung that thermometer high, noting our goal of raising $1.4 million this year. We created enthusiasm and excitement and are underway to making history with our milestone year. We would love for you to join us with your time, talent or treasure. Be a part of our 2016 minutes, which, in 50 years, someone else will read. And together, standing united, we can raise that iconic thermometer.